Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The One Who Puts Everything Right

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossian 1:11-20
Chatfield United Methodist Church
November 24, Christ the King Sunday
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Today is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday in the church year. Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the cycle of the church calendar.
I know it is confusing, Unless, like me you live this calendar week to week, season to season. It doesn’t seem like a new year next Sunday.

But next Sunday the colors will change from green to blue. You are invited to come be a part of the transformation tomorrow evening, Soup will be served and boxes will be taken out of storage as we prepare for the season of Advent. When we will begin again to tell the story of Jesus and God’s people from the beginning: the promised coming of Jesus who became that baby in a manger. And through his life death and resurrection transformed everything. Everything.

Today the story comes to its conclusion. Christ is King. Christ’s reign is come among us. And like everything else, even the concept of power, of kingdom is transformed.

We don’t know much about kings in the USA. We deliberately wrote our constitution so that a King, a sovereign person couldn’t take over and run the entire government, military and economy within their own whims and values.

So all we know about kings and queens is what we see on the TV. And the queen of England isn’t even close to the idea of King or Queen that is in the bible. She is a figure head with little real power.

What a king was in biblical times was a person who was given the power to make decisions and he didn’t have to listen to anyone else. A king in biblical times could demand that someone like John the Baptist lose his head simply because he didn’t like what John said about his marriage. A king in biblical times could put his mistress’ husband at the front line of battle so that the husband would get killed, just as David did.
A king in biblical times could demand that anyone who didn’t call him king or son of God or savior would be put to death, used as sport in violent games, or imprisoned with no trial or hope of release. As many of the Caesars of the Roman empire did.

Kings in biblical times, even King David, were not benevolent lovers of their people waving benignly from their balconies. Wearing funny hats and little white gloves.

Kings had power, destructive power. So why would we use the word Christ and King in the same description? Why would we want this baby in a manger to grow up to be a powerful King?

Because like everything else in life, Christ, Jesus our Messiah and Savior, transforms everything! Even what it means to be a powerful king.
Hear the words of Jeremiah: in those days I will raise up for David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.

Or as Eugene Peterson translates the name: The One who puts everything right.

Here is the thing about Jesus. As we begin to prepare for the Christmas season, as we begin putting out our nativity scenes, placing the baby figure in his little manger, as we start getting all sentimental and feel good about this little baby,

Let’s not forget, this little baby is the best hope for the world. Jesus is the one who is putting everything right.

This little baby Jesus didn’t grow up to be just a nice man, a good preacher, a healer, a teacher who could move crowds to tremendous acts of mercy and goodness.

This little baby Jesus didn’t grow up to be just a nice man we could look up and hope to be like someday.

Jesus grew up and through his life, death and resurrection, transformed everything that had to do with power. Jesus transformed everything that had to do with power. In our relationships with each other, our relationships with the creation, our relationships within society.

In the reading in Colossians there is a very important phrase that captures just exactly how radical this transformation of power is:
God has rescued us from the power of darkness.
God has rescued us from the power of darkness.

Have you ever made believe that you were a king? or queen? or a super hero? or a cowboy? Someone with the power to decide the fate of another person? Someone who could say with one word, go here, go there, live, die.

Have you ever been in a place where you had to make a decision about the future of another person? Were you ever a boss? Or a parent? Or a daughter or son? deciding whether to hire or fire, whether to encourage or discourage, whether to direct or let go?

Have you ever been tempted to do something to someone else that would not be in their best interest? Have you ever put someone in the heat of battle, letting fate takes its course? Have you ever put down someone because you didn’t like their opinion? their attitude? Have you ever cut someone off at the knees?
Have you ever been tempted, like we heard in the news recently, to deface a rock or a beautiful tree simply because you had the power to do it?

Have you ever been tempted with even the small amount of power any of us has to go toward the darkness?

Of course, all of us have been tempted. Jesus was tempted toward darkness. Prove to us you are the son of God, prove to us that God loves you, throw yourself off this cliff, ask God to get you down from this cross. All of us have been tempted.
Some of us have succumbed to the power of darkness, even.
We have made children cry, we have hurt another person deeply, we have turned our backs because we didn’t want to get involved.

But we are not condemned. WE are not thrown out into a kingdom of darkness.

We are rescued, rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into a kingdom of light. Transferred. I like that description. We are relocated, moved. It implies that there isn’t much we can do about it. It just happens, because of God’s great love for us, because of Jesus’ work of transformation in the world, we are transferred from darkness into light.

And not only are we living in a new kind of kingdom with a new kind of king, we are living there as forgiven people. We are living in the this new kingdom of light as shame filled people, heads hanging down because of the times we have succumbed to the power of darkness.

Jesus is the transformation: of everything, even our own dark lives. Especially, our own dark lives.

We live in the light of God’s kingdom now, our impulses can be toward the light, toward love, toward all that Jesus taught us to be. When our child spills the milk one time too many, we can chose to turn towards the light and say, oops let’s clean that up together. (instead of shaming the child for being so clumsy) When we are required to tell someone something that might be hurtful, we remember their humanity, their vulnerability and frame the conversation in such a way that builds them up rather than tearing them down. When we encounter someone whose opinion makes us cringe, we see them as God sees them, as a beloved child of God.

Through the transformative power of the Christ, who is the King, we live in the kingdom of the Light. No more controlled by the power of darkness.

We are free. Truly set free. Let’s live in our new kingdom, let’s live as if this kingdom has already come among us. Let’s live as people rescued from the power of darkness.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Land of Milk and Honey

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Land of Milk and Honey
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
November 10, 2013

It was wonderful to come into worship this morning; to see the fat, healthy ears of corn hanging from the corn stalks. Reminding us of the harvest, plenty and the land.

In the fall, as I work in my gardens getting them ready for their winter slumber, I hear the dryer fans from the grain elevator and know the harvest is coming.
The big wagons full of corn come down Winona street full to overflowing. Later they will return rattling, empty. The sounds of fall here in Chatfield.

The sound of grain drying provides a comforting backdrop to my own preparations for winter.
And I am reminded, in this country, partly because of the work of farmers in MN, we have the resources and the where withal to allow everyone to live comfortably and healthfully in our own land of flowing with milk and honey.

Which is exactly the situation in our Hebrew text the morning. 

This text which I will read was written to the Israelites to help them celebrate and worship God who has gifted them with plenty. These verses from Chapter 26 of Deuteronomy were written so that when the Israelites came together to remember they would do it with thanksgiving.
Hear these words from Deuteronomy 26: “Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.” And there in the Presence of God, your God, you will recite:
5-10 A wandering and perishing Aramean was my father,
he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
The Egyptians abused and battered us,
in a cruel and savage slavery.
We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers:
God the Almighty listened to our voice, God saw
our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.
And God brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am.
Then prostrate yourselves in the Presence of God, your God. And rejoice! Celebrate all the good things that God, your God, has given you and your family; you and the foreigner who lives with you.”

The Israelites were commanded by their holy texts to see that God had provided them and the foreigner/stranger who lived in their land with every thing they needed to be comfortable and well off.

As those who have inherited the promises and covenants that were given to the Jews, we too have been gifted with plenty and enough; for ourselves and those who are living with us in the land. We are living in a land of milk and honey. No matter what our economic status is. We have all that we need to be called people of God. We have all we need to be called people of God.

I think we need to be reminded of our abundance and our identity as God’s children, as we sit on the edge of the season of wanting more and more and more. And begin talking about the depression, stress, and the overwhelming false-guilt of the holiday season.

With all the stressors of the holidays we may suddenly feel like our milk and honey life has become soured and sticky and filled with flies.
Now I’m not going to tell you to simply snap out of it, count your blessings and put on a happy face.  Say thank you Jesus and realize how lucky you are.

That would be like pulling the trick your parents may have pulled when you were served yucky vegetables, be thankful for the food on your plate, young lady. The children in Africa would give anything to have what you have.

As you stared at that messy lump of food on your plate you hated those children in Africa and wished you could just send them this disgusting stuff and wouldn’t they just deserve it.

How do we get through these next weeks of more and more and more without giving into sour grapes or fake joy? How we manage to remain focused on the God who has led us to the land of milk and honey?

The context of Deuteronomy is not only about praising God for what God has done for us: bringing out of a place of slavery to sin and death, I left something out of the reading. I left the vegetables in the kitchen. Until now: Hear the rest of the story.

“Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, you are to take some of all the firstfruits of what you grow in the land that God, your God, is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place God, your God, sets apart for you to worship him. At that time, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.” The priest will take the basket from you and place it on the Altar of God, your God.”

This passage is also about bringing the gifts of our land to God as a thank offering, as a way of saying Thank you God, look at what you have given me. Look at what I am able to take from my stores without worry about whether or not I will starve. Look at what you have given me so that I can gift others with some of the same.

Like those vegetables your mom would coax you to eat, talking about offerings can put us on the defensive. So, I didn’t want to lead with that part about bringing offerings to God. But you know what, bringing your offering to God is more than about keeping the bills paid and the church running. It is also about reminding ourselves of all God has given us and our ability to be able to give an offering. It is, like eating vegetables, good for our well being. Because bringing an offering in faith that you won’t need that first fruit that you are bringing means that you believe that you live in a land of enough. Where there is enough for all.  It is so important to our well being that God made sure the Israelites began practicing the thank offering as soon as they settled in the land. We will have lots of opporutnities in this season to give to others. We don’t do this because it makes us feel better or that somehow we will be more well thought of by God. God will love us whether or not we give to the Christmas Tree project, fillmore place or the food shelf. The thank offering, light a candle offering or the regular offering. Giving our gifts are a way for us to say, I have enough, I have plenty. I believe that I do live in the land of milk and honey, that God has brought me to a place of blessing. And I am desirous to give in order that others might experience what it feels like to live in the land overflowing.

How do we get through the next few weeks of more, more, more? We get through them the same way we dwell in the land flowing with milk and honey the rest of the time. For we live in abundance everyday of the year. We are tempted into over consumption, greed, depression, and anxiety every day of the year. It is the dark side of living in a land of milk and honey.

We get through them by focusing on thankfulness, and giving God our thank offering. Whether it be the first fruits of the ground or the first fruits of our day. We live as if every day is the first day and the last day of our life. We live as if every day is enough. And we say thanks, with a grateful heart.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For ALL The Saints, resting or otherwise

All Saints Day 2013
for all the saints who from their labors rest.

That is how we usually think of saints, dead people. Dead people with halos around their heads, sitting in heaven somewhere with God’s smile shining on them.

We think of people like Bob Seigel, or Larry Zincke. Those who have gone before.

And we hope someday we will be remembered as a saint of the church. We hope we don’t mess up so much between now and our death that people will be willing to call us saints when we are remembered.

Today we celebrate and remember the saints who have gone before us. As the candles burn down, we remember that our lives are short, yet significant.

Short, yet significant. our lives are significant. To the world and to God. So significant that God calls us saints. That is our name.

What if, when I take a child down the aisle after baptism I would say, here I want to introduce you to Saint Madison. or Saint Braxton, or Saint Owen.

It would be proper and right for me to do that. For all the saints. For all those whose life dwells with God, who have been brought to the font and claimed for God, who have been given the power of the holy spirit through the waters of baptism and the testimony of this community of faith.
We can say with confidence: For all the saints. For us.

You probably know that the Apostle Paul often calls the people to whom he writes his letters: Saints. To the Saints in Ephesis, to the Saints in Corinth. But did you know that Saint is also a title given to God’s people in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Scriptures? 

In Psalm 31 we read: "Love the Lord, all you God's saints.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord."

Sainthood really isn’t something that we attain. It doesn’t come to us as we work hard on our faith life. We don’t get more of it depending on how many bible studies we attend. We are saints of God. We are God’s beloved, chosen and holy people. Because God says so.

In the letter Paul writes to the Ephesians (1:1-23) he tells them that he is praying for them As saints of God he is praying: "That God would make you intelligent and discerning in knowing God personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is God is calling you to do,"

Paul wants the saints of God to grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life God has for followers, oh, the utter extravagance of God’s work in us who trust in God—endless energy, boundless strength!

Obviously, Sainthood isn’t for dead people. It is for people who are extravagantly, exuberantly, alive. Full of energy and boundless strength. It is for people who can see all that God is doing in the world. Who are thinking and taking note of God’s work in the world. Who point it out and say: Look, look, God is working. You think all is dark and hopeless but I see God working.

(To read of an example of young people being people of the Kingdom of God/Saints of God see the Blog Post on this blog dated October 31, 2013. Chatfield on a Halloween Night.)

Sainthood is for people who can see clearly the wonderful extravagance of God’s work in the world. The grace that is offered to everyone, at any time, as it is offered here at the Communion Table every time we serve Holy Communion*. Always freely given.

Sainthood is for people who can enter into the endless energy and boundless strength of the work of God in the world.

Sainthood isn’t for dead people. It is for people who are truly exuberantly ALIVE in God through the power of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.

Sainthood is for US. Let us enter into it with our eyes wide open, our hearts expecting God to do great things in us and through us, and our minds focused on all that God is doing around us. Let us testify to the extravagant work of God’s energy in the world. Let us BE Saints.

*In the United Methodist Church, Holy Communion is celebrated as an ‘open table’. All are invited, no one is turned away. No one is asked for credentials nor to give an accounting for their lives. Just as Jesus said, “Come to the table.” So we say, “Come.”